A group of students sitting around a desk in an academic English class talk to a teacher

Managing inclusive learning environments

A university teacher’s role is to establish learning environments in which all students are both challenged and supported to develop their thinking through engagement with their teachers, peers and well designed learning materials.

Managing inclusive learning environments

  • Start thinking about your own and others' expectations of teaching and learning, including the roles of teachers and students. What do you find surprising, or even annoying, about differences in yours and other's expectations? What cultural rules might be determining the other person's actions, and your reaction? (Carroll 2000). UNSW Sydney suggest questions to guide reflection.
  • Students respond very well to teachers using their names - try these strategies from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to help jog your memory.
  • Take time to consider carefully what learning activities you intend to run, and what approaches and behaviours you are trying to encourage in your learners. Are these aligned to the intended learning outcomes? Might they surface difference of opinion and are you and students prepared for this?

For inspiration, read case studies of Imperial teachers planning and facilitating inclusive learning.

The University of Michigan offers useful Inclusive Teaching Resources and Strategies for reflecting on your practice and its impact on different learners.

'Constantly reflect on what factors may be making students feel excluded from learning and how this might be addressed.'
  • For many learners university may be the first time that they experience more interactive styles of teaching so it is not uncommon to experience initial resistance and issues relating to group dynamics. A learning contract or something similar might help to avoid these problems; by setting out basic ground rules the teacher can create a supportive learning environment where all students are able to participate.
  • It is helpful to use an icebreaker task the first time that you meet your group; this will warm them up and get them speaking. Generally it is advisable to provide a direct question or task, as leaving it too open might be intimidating. It may or may not be related to the learning, for example you might ask students to tell you something about themselves (the most interesting place they have visited and why) or it may be that you provide a stimulus (a video clip, an image, some data) and ask students a question about what it means to them.
  • Provide the students with the rationale for your session; this is often referred to as the hook. For example, it may be a crucial element in their assessment, it might be important for contextual knowledge or it might have a real and practical application that they will have to employ in the future.
  • Tell the students what they can expect from you and what you expect of them during the sessions; what do you expect them know by the end (content), what do you expect them to do in the activities, what kind of attitude or feelings do you expect them to engage in e.g. “I want you to take a critical stance.” “I want you to imagine you are the patient.” “I want you to think about innovative solutions.”
  • To end the session, provide a summary of what was achieved and highlight specifically how it relates to the key ILOs. It can also be useful to summarise plans for the next session, particularly if the students are required to prepare for their contribution, or have particular tasks as a result from the session they have just finished.
  • Often students find it hard to see the value of interactive sessions as the ‘take-home knowledge’ is less explicit. Summaries and clear signposting to the programme, other sessions and perhaps on to actual practice can help to reinforce the learning and build confidence.

Initiating students into teamworking

  • Many teachers at Imperial think carefully about how to allocate students to groups or teams in order for them to learn from their cohort's diverse nature. If teams are not teacher-selected the risk is that they may form along monocultural lines. When allocating students to groups you are advised not to completely separate under-represented minority students from each other but to ensure at least two women or members of ethnic minority groups are included in a group.
  • It is helpful to work with your students to establish team ground rules so that they are aware of how important it is to respect other's opinions and commitments, and are equipped to manage potential imbalance of contribution. The LearnHigher website offer useful tools for helping students to work with others.
  • The Team-based Learning (TBL) strategy offers a highly structured and systematic approach to facilitating inclusive teamwork.

Inclusivity at Imperial

'At the start of the course, the students are asked to think creatively about how they might best engage with the course, both in terms of their own learning, and supporting the learning of their peers. For example, as the students are working in teams, we discuss how students can participate more within their teams and perhaps take a leading role, when their schedules are more relaxed, and take a step back when they are under pressure. However, the teams need to discuss their schedules and negotiate this to make sure that no one team member is being taken advantage of, and that they share the responsibilities of the team work as equally as possible. The students can report on their team working each week, and they can justify certain students participating more or less and suggest whether or not they think the team marks should reflect this, or they can report under or over activity in other team members for investigation and later discussion.'

Elizabeth Hauke, Horizons